Celebrating European Craft at Homo Faber, Venice

Far from a traditional design festival, this island event shows artisans at work

Two years in the making, Venice’s Homo Faber: Crafting a More Human Future, a new biennial fair, celebrates the range and depth of fine craftwork in Europe. On now through 30 September, the two-week event includes 16 exhibitions and an extensive program of talks celebrating not the past, but the vision of a possible future.

The Restoration exhibit shows how a range of vintage and very very old items are restored

Created by the Geneva-based Michelangelo Foundation—founded by Johann Rupert (CEO of the Richemont Group) and Franco Cologni (former Chairman of Cartier and founder of the Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d’Arte among many other accomplishments), Homo Faber is a vehicle to create awareness around European crafts and inspire the next generation of craftspeople and designers. Dozens of artisans from all over Europe are invited to work for two weeks in the spaces of Fondazione Giorgio Cini though this isn’t a regular exhibition or biennale—it’s a unique showcase of talent at work and examples of those efforts. Visitors are treated to displays of beautiful objects, rare materials, intricate decorations and details—be it in the form of fans, globes, horns, embroidery, saddles, carved stones, bicycles and even helicopters.

Auto restoration, new motorcycles and helicopters can be seen in the Mestiere in Movimento exhibit

Alberto Cavalli (Co-executive Director of the Michelangelo Foundation) tells us “Artisans are not pandas in a gilded cage and this is not just a collection of nice objects, nor a celebration of the past. We want to show the future of Europe. And we’re not talking about price, but values such as authenticity, originality and terroir.” Take a look below as we highlight some of our favorite products and artisans at work from the impressive inaugural event.

A map of Venice showcasing different embroidery techniques by Maison Lesage

Lesage, one of the most celebrated Parisian ateliers for embroidery, creates pieces for Chanel (which bought it in 2002), Dior, Balmain, Valentino and others. During the course of the exhibition they will create an embroidered map of Venice using a range of signature techniques and materials. The intricate work of art will be a one-of-a-kind souvenir of the fair.

An artisan from Venini demonstrates how he creates the “beaten” engraving technique

“Beaten,” the name of the decorative engraving technique featuring small irregular parallel scratches, is used on the Canoa bowl designed by Carlo Scapa in the ’40s (and many other products) is still produced today by Venini and takes tremendous patience. Each piece is a full day’s work by an expert artisan.

Eyewear patterns and materials from Maison Bonnet

For five generations Paris’ Maison Bonnet has been making bespoke eyewear using all kinds of striking materials, from buffalo horn and turtle shell to acetate. Each pair is entirely made-to-measure on the face of the client—among which they can name Yves Saint Laurent and several French presidents. Also using natural materials like horns, the Milanese house of Lorenzi creates forks, knives, spoons and all sorts of cutlery.

A volume of Shakespeare features fore-edge painting in both directions of the book’s front edge as well as painting on the top and bottom

When it comes to the ancient art of fore-edge painting, Martin Frost is a master keeping the magical tradition alive. His creations are also delightfully deceptive: the closed book only shares its gilded gold edges, but they hide  paintings revealed only when the pages are pulled at a certain angle. Frost also binds books by hand, turning regular books into one-of-a-kind masterpieces.

Modern clothing featuring craft techniques is featured in an exhibit in the pool

Curated by Judith Clark, “In and out of Fashion” is hosted at Piscina Gandini (a pool designed in the ’60s) and exhibits contemporary apparel that shows how traditional crafts are still present in today’s clothing. With items from brands including Dolce & Gabbana, Margiela, Stephen Jones,  Jacquemus and more, it’s an eye-opening experience.

The Best of Europe exhibition


For the “Creativity and Craftsmanship” exhibit architect Michele de Lucchi imagines a path through objects that hide a void. Each object (commissioned for Homo Faber) is born out of the collaboration between a renowned designer and a European artisan. Partnerships include Alfredo Häberli and Roman Räss from Switzerland, Ingo Maurer with Enno Lehmann and Martin Deggelmann from Germany, Adam Lowe from the UK and Francesco Cigognetti from Spain, Marcel Wanders and Wilma Plaisier of Heinen Delfts Blauw from the Netherlands. 

Homo Faber: Crafting a More Human Future is on now through 30 September. Admission is free (including the boat from San Marco to San Giorgio Maggiore island) but a reservation is necessary.

Images by Paolo Ferrarini + Evan Orensten